BROCKWAY - From the beginning of the PIAA Class AA first-round state softball game against Cranberry, even the most casual observer could tell Central was having fun.
The Lady Dragons laughed, joked around, made good-natured verbal jabs at each other and smiled under a battleship gray sky that yielded a couple brief rain outbreaks. Yep, they showed no ill-effects of their loss to Philipsburg-Osceola in the District 6 championship last week.
And it certainly showed on the field.
Held to three hits by P-O's Kate Burge, the Lady Dragons erupted for 14 runs and 17 hits, including Kate Blattenberger's four-hit performance, got a three-hitter from Kylie Gunnett, played errorless defense and rolled to a 14-1 pounding of the Berries in six innings at Brockway High School.
"There was a lot less pressure," Blattenberger said. "We didn't know the opponent. We know Philipsburg pretty well, and we know they're a pretty good team, but we just went out there with confidence today."
"The pressure of the last game up at Penn State, first time there, big crowd, it got to us, there's no doubt about it," Central coach Dale Walters said. "Today, what little we knew of Cranberry, they knew if we put the ball in play, we had a good chance. So, I think they were relaxed, and they were ready."
The Lady Dragons (18-6) will now get ready for their second-round game against District 7 champion Deer Lakes, a 5-4 winner over Wilmington, on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
What helped Central to play more relaxed the opening salvo it fired across the Cranberry bow, scoring four runs in the first inning off of pitcher Kayla Nelson, who threw 43 pitches in the first inning.
All off Central's starters had at least one hit, and four of the Lady Dragons had multiple hits, including Blattenberger, Ashley Smith, Gunnett and Kassidy Snyder. An RBI double by Smith and infield run-scoring hit by Blattenberger in the first preceded Paige Mock's two-run double to right-center.
"That was a huge hit," Blattenberger said. "She needed that hit. She needed to get her confidence up. She came through big-time for us there."
"[The four-run outburst] was huge," Walters said. "It takes all the pressure off of us and puts all the pressure on the other team. I'd like to be the visitors every game."
The Lady Dragon hitters were taking a lot of the pitches to right field, including Smith's solo home run to right-center in the second inning.
"The funny thing is the one girl's mother was standing out there in right-center field taking pictures," Walters said, "and I kept telling them 'Hit Mrs. McKnight, hit Mrs. McKnight.' "
That was more than enough for Gunnett, who used a sneaky fastball and a wicked changeup to keep the Berries in check. She had only one strikeout, but her defense backed her up.
"Kylie rebounded great from the last game," Walters said. "I was really proud of her."
"They kept us off balance with fast, slow, fast style of pitching," Cranberry coach Shawn Bean said.
By the end of the game, Walters had used everybody on his bench as some sort of substitute, giving the subs some valuable playing experience.
"That's the beauty of it," Walters said. "These last six or seven girls come to practice every day and work hard every day. Honestly, that made me as happy as anything we did today."
Blattenberger, who along with Mock and Alexis Walters, will graduate tonight, but then the attention will turn to Thursday's game.
"It feels amazing," Blattenberger. "Great momentum for us. I'm excited for the next round. I'm excited to see our opponent. I'm excited to keep playing. We're not done yet. We're going to keep going."
CENTRAL (14): M. Snyder 2b 321, Eberlin ph 100, Garman c 301, Barnes cr-ph 111, Smith 3b 512, McKnight ss 411, Blattenberger cf 524, Garner pr 010, Gunnett p 402, Ritchey cr 010, Mock rf 201, Albright pr 020, K. Snyder 1b 312, Walters pr 010, J. Snyder lf 111, Aiello lf 101. Totals - 33-14-17.
CRANBERRY (1): Mason ss 200, Allen 2b 302, Sheffer c 300, Hogue 1b 200, Swartztager 3b 200, Orrvick rf 200, Burris lf 100, Greene lf 100, Shreffler dp 200, Swart cf 211, Nelson p 000, White p 000. Totals - 20-1-3.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Central410 054 X-14 17 0
Cranberry001 000 X-1 3 1
E-Allen. 2B-M. Snyder, Garman, Smith. 3B-Allen, Swart. HR-Smith. RBI-M. Snyder 2, Garman 2, Smith 2, Mock 2, Aiello 2, McKnight, Blattenberger, K. Snyder. SB-McKnight. SAC-J. Snyder; Mason. LOB-Central 9, Cranberry 3.
Central: Gunnett (W)-6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO.
Cranberry: Nelson (L)-4 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 1 SO; White-1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO.
Records: Central (18-6); Cranberry (18-3).